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Biologist, Green Energy Proponent Blasts Wind Energy Producers For Golden Eagle Deaths

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Despite his love of green energy, a Wyoming biologist tracking golden eagle deaths is calling for Carbon and Albany Counties to put the brakes on wind energy expansion.  

“In my opinion, existing wind projects are already causing a chronic population decline of resident eagles,” Mike Lockhart, a biologist with 33 years of experience, told Cowboy State Daily last week.

Lockhart’s comments referenced his years-long eagle tracking project, which attributed multiple golden eagle deaths to wind turbine strikes.  

Lockhart said that so many new wind projects are in the works the golden eagle population will continue to decline. 

“The extent of proposed wind projects will vastly increase and accelerate those (turbine) impacts to a point where current population levels are impossible to maintain,” he said.

Bald eagles, Lockhart said during a presentation to the Carbon County Commission earlier this month, seem more accepting of changes in their landscape than the stubborn golden eagles.  

He added that the windy lands near Interstate 80 in Carbon and Albany counties, especially the Shirley and Laramie Basins, are prime golden eagle habitat – perhaps the finest in the nation.  

For northern-based golden eagles that swing from Canada to Mexico with the seasons, the area is a prime corridor; and for Wyoming homebody eagles, or “residents,” the area is a key habitat. 

Lockhart has captured 176 eagles for temporary study since 2014, fitting 113 of them with satellite tags for further tracking. Of the 113 tagged, 80 were on or next to existing and proposed wind project areas, and were tracked for specific wind impact studies. The group includes breeders and “floaters,” or bachelors lurking for a good breeding habitat.  

One lamentable facet of raptor study, noted Lockhart in his presentation to commissioners, is that wind energy development tends to move faster than the life-cycle studies, leaving biologists to play catch-up to discover the effects of wind turbines already built or proposed on eagles living out their long and seasonally patterned lives.  

Death Trends 

Of the 113 eagles tagged, Lockhart logged 20 golden eagle deaths with known causes: 17 of were killed by human-related activity and three died of natural causes, such as disease or conflicts with other eagles.  

Here’s how the 17 golden eagles killed by human activity died: 

One by collision with wire; 

One, by lead poisoning, specifically, ingesting bullet fragments; 

Two were shot; 

Four died of vehicle collisions; 

Four died of wind turbine strikes, and 

Five were electrocuted – including one killed by a power line designed with an insulator developed to protect raptors.  

Some bald eagles were also tagged, but fewer of their deaths were related to human activity.

Federal Transparency 

Lockhart’s concerns were twofold: that wind expansion in the Shirley Basin area, especially, should be halted for further study and mitigation and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should air its conversations with wind developers publicly.  

“They’re not transparent enough,” Lockhart said, “and they need to be a lot more rigorous in terms of what’s happening on the ground and actually monitoring that and not having third parties do it.”  

Lockhart clarified that there are fine biologists working for and with the Fish and Wildlife Service, but he fears they may be “run over” by a current federal climate of green-energy frenzy.  

“I’m a green energy proponent myself,” Lockhart said, adding that the Fish and Wildlife Service should focus more on protecting at-risk species than promoting wind power interests.  

Rigorous Habitat Study 

Nearly all the wind projects in the Shirley Basin belong to Rocky Mountain Power.  

Rocky Mountain Power did not respond by midday Friday to a voicemail requesting comment.  

Kara Choquette, communications director of Power Company of Wyoming, countered Lockhart in an interview last week with Cowboy State Daily.

Choquette said her company’s wind farm, the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, undertook a lengthy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service process of habitat review before the wind structures could be built. 

Unlike the Rocky Mountain Power projects, the Chokecherry is not in the Shirley Basin but is farther south than the area Lockhart is most concerned about, Choquette said, adding the process for establishing turbine routes around eagles has been rigorous nonetheless.  

Six years of “many biologists” studying habitats, she said, preceded construction, and the studies are still ongoing even as the turbines cycle on.    

“It’s a pretty high standard of conservation before you can get an incidental take permit for eagles,” she said. 

The “incidental take” is the number of eagles a wind project is allowed to kill or disturb, accidentally, under Fish and Wildlife Service protocols. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service announced in 2016 the Chokecherry farm may be allowed to “take” one to two bald eagles and 10 to 14 golden eagles per year. 

Choquette said because “take” is also defined as “disturb,” the actual number of golden eagle fatalities is likely below that threshold of 10 to 14. 

Chokecherry planners also were required to place insulators on power poles and establish other environmental measures which, she said, could provide a “net benefit” to eagles, resulting in an overall population increase.

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High Winds Blast Wyoming; Trucks Overturned, Roads Closed, Structures Toppled

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Strong winds blasted the entire state of Wyoming on Tuesday, with some areas seeing gusts between 60 mph and 95 mph on Monday and Tuesday.

Meteorologist Noah Myers at the National Weather Service office in Riverton told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the windy weather experienced by much of the state was pretty unique for the time of year.

“It’s stronger and lasting longer than normal,” Myers said. “Usually when we have a strong wind, one place will be windier than the rest, but now it’s widespread.”

The Weather Service’s Riverton coverage area, which spans much of central and western Wyoming, will likely see the end of the wind on Tuesday night, but Johnson County will still have windy weather on Wednesday.

Myers noted that Casper saw particularly strong winds all day on Monday, peaking at 88 mph.

Some of the strongest gusts seen in the Riverton coverage area included Buffalo and Rock Springs, where gusts of up to 70 mph were measured in the previous 24 hours.

Interstate 25 from Wyoming into Colorado was closed to light, high-profile vehicles as of Tuesday afternoon due to the strong winds, which were blowing around 35 mph in Cheyenne at the time, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

At least a few semi-trucks had blown over on the interstate due to the wind on Tuesday, causing traffic backups.

Much of Interstate 80 was also closed to the same vehicles, with the addition of an extreme blow over risk.

According to the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, the strongest wind gusts seen over the last 24 hours was in Elk Mountain, which had gusts of around 95 mph during the windy period.

The windy weather was expected to continue in southeastern Wyoming throughout Wednesday, with the strongest winds shifting east near Cheyenne and Laramie, but the farther west, the wind was expected to get weaker.

A high wind warning for the Cheyenne area was in place until Wednesday evening.

Much of the western United States saw windy weather over the last 24 hours. In Idaho, a 70-foot screen at a Driggs drive-in theater was knocked over by strong winds. The screen had been up since the 1950s.

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Cheyenne Couple’s 60-Foot Pine Tree Smashes Neighbor’s House in Wind Gust

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Tom and Traci Lacock were awake at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday when they heard what they thought was a loud gust of wind at their home in Cheyenne.

Almost immediately after, they received a call from their next door neighbor, letting them know that what they heard wasn’t a gust of wind; a 60-foot pine tree in the Lacocks’ yard had fallen onto their home and their neighbors’.

“We just moved into this house about four weeks ago,” Tom Lacock told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “Everyone was safe in each house. There is damage to their roof, and the front of our yard has some damage, such as the fence and the front of the house took some cosmetic damage, but this falls under the category of ‘could have been worse.'”

Unsurprisingly, the Lacocks said they feel terrible about the damage to their neighbors’ home.

The three hours between the time the tree fell on the homes and when the Lacocks could actually see the damage, and the tree, in the daylight was an agonizing time.

“We spent the first couple hours of the morning with the neighbors and flashlights trying to figure out what happened. When the sun finally rose, it was pretty sobering to see the damage,” Lacock said.

Despite the damage, Lacock said the neighbors were great.

“You learn a lot about your neighbors when your tree drops on their house at 4 am. We learned we have awesome neighbors who didn’t deserve a tree dropping on their place,” he said. “They were as gracious as could be.”

Lacock gave a particular shout-out to EnvisiaCare Lawn Services, a Cheyenne-based company that provides full tree care. The Lacocks called the company when its offices opened early Tuesday and a crew was at the family’s home to begin removing the tree an hour later.

“Had the tree gone by noon and we were able to watch the bowl game,” Lacock said.

Interestingly, the tree was “very healthy,” with not a single dead branch. According to Lacock, the roots just snapped during the wind gusts that shook Cheyenne early Tuesday.

The city was under a high wind warning all day Tuesday, and gusts reached up to 79 mph in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.

The Lacocks will have to get rid of the tree’s stump, but intend to plant some aspen flowers in the spot where the tree once stood.

“We moved back to Cheyenne nine years ago today,” Lacock said. “We had friends help with transporting kids to appointments. We had another friend come over from work and start raking. At lunch, Traci sort of took it all in and said, ‘We live in a good city with terrific people.’ I couldn’t agree more.”

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Hurricane-Force Winds No Big Deal For Clark, Wyoming

in News/wind
Winds push snow in the mountains near Clark, where winds of up to 118 mph were measured over the weekend. Clark residents such as James Ingram say high winds are nothing new and residents just make a point of preparing for the high gusts. (Photo courtesy of James Ingram)

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Hurricane-force winds are nothing new for the small northern Wyoming community that saw wind speeds of up to 118 mph over the weekend.

While there is no hurricane season in Wyoming, there is the community of Clark about 30 miles north of Cody, where weekend winds equaled what is considered “major” hurricane wind speeds under the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Just one week before this weekend’s 118 mph gust, a 95 mph wind gust was recorded there. Four weeks ago, winds of up to 100 mph caused – and then spurred on – a deadly wildfire that took the life of a Clark resident.“

This fall has been unusual for the number of high-wind days,” said Clark resident James Ingram. “It seems like days are either perfectly calm or steady 40 mph. Recently we’ve seen gusts up to 60 mph here at our house near the fish hatchery, but closer to the mountains they’ve been higher.”

Clark itself is not an incorporated Wyoming town, more of a gathering of residences with a church, a recreation center and an elementary school. Commuters who travel between Cody and Billings, Montana, can make the trip via Wyoming Highway 120 without even realizing that a community lies to the west.

But those same drivers learn quickly that the winds in that corridor can be dangerous – and Clark residents have become used to the steady, sometimes damaging winds.

“We try to hunker down on those days,” Ingram said, “but horses and ducks have to be fed! We’ve had no damage, but then we keep things put away or staked down. Clark residents plan that way.”

What Clark residents can’t plan for are wildfires fueled by the hurricane-force winds, like the one that took the life of Cindy Ruth in November.

The fire consumed 300 acres and destroyed at least eight buildings (including three homes), and was started Nov. 15 by high winds that took down a power line, which fell into a tree on Park County Road 1AB. The sparks lit the dry grass, and the 100 mph gusts moved the fire swiftly.

But the winds are a way of life, and many Clark residents have developed a sense of humor about it.

“I like to call those days ‘garbage pickup days’ when we send all surface trash to Kansas,” Ingram joked. “Keeps Clark looking clean as a whistle!”

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Where the Winds Blew the Hardest in Wyoming

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There are places in Wyoming that lifelong residents would have never heard of except for the wind.

These unknown places — which few people can place on a map — are known for one thing: the wind.

The wind puts these places on the map.

Ask the average person in Wyoming where Pumpkin Vine is. 

The only time it makes the news is when the wind is blowing at hurricane force conditions or close to it.

Pumpkin Vine is barely worth mentioning today as it didn’t get close to the top wind speed — at all — as it only clocked a gust of 60 mph. For Pumpkin Vine, that’s calm. That’s boring. That’s stagnant.

The gold medal for wind on Monday goes to Arlington, Wyoming. This town is an overachiever as it regularly comes to the top of the list for windy locations.

It’s the Tom Brady of wind.

Today’s top wind speed?  91 mph.

So almost a Category 2.

Although it was windy today, if no locations in Wyoming reach Category 3 status, it can’t be called something out of the ordinary. It’s just breezy.

If it’s Category 3, we should stop and salute. That’s because the wind is between 111 – 129.  Today, not even 100. So quit your complaining.

Here’s the top 10 for Monday.

NW Arlington: 91 mph
NW Natural Fort: 89 mph
Chief Joseph Highway: 88 mph
Cody: 84 mph
Bordeaux: 79 mph
Red Canyon South Pass: 75 mph
Sherws (whatever that is): 74 mph
Federal: 73 mph
Park County Sheriff Office: 73 mph
Another NW Arlington: 71 mph

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Wyoming Wind Pushes Amazon Semi, Other Vehicles Off Interstate

in News/weather/Transportation

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming winds gusting more than 70 mph almost pushed an Amazon semi-trailer off of a bridge on Interstate 25 south of Chugwater on Monday.

The driver’s status was unknown as of Monday morning, as the Wyoming Department of Transportation noted on its social media that the Wyoming Highway Patrol was still investigating the incident.

The accident was one of several caused by strong winds, which forced the closure of Interstate 80 between Evanston and Laramie through most of Sunday and early Monday.

Central and southeastern Wyoming, from Cheyenne to Casper and west past Rawlins and nearly to Lander were under a high wind warning on Monday, with crosswinds of 60 to 80 mph possible until the late afternoon.

Interstate 25 southbound was closed near Wheatland after a semi-truck crashed and blocked lanes.

A wind warning was also in place for northwestern Wyoming, including Cody, while the area west of Dubois was under advisories for snow showers, slick roads and blowing snow.

U.S. Highway 30 between Granger and Laramie was also closed, as was U.S. Highway 287 between Rawlins and Laramie.

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Southeast Wyoming Sees 18 Blow-Overs During Wednesday Windstorm

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Well, at least your Wednesday wasn’t as bad as it was for some people.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation announced Thursday that the southeastern portion of the state saw at least 18 vehicles blow over during the wicked Wednesday windstorm that swept across the state.

Laramie County saw seven confirmed blow-overs, Albany County had six, Carbon County had three and the Wheatland area had two.

Most of the state saw gusts of up to at least 65-70 mph, but southeast Wyoming was pummeled with wind, with gusts of up to 105 mph. Anything over 74 mph is defined as a hurricane-force winds.

In Cheyenne, gusts ranged from 89 to 100 MPH, while the Cody Foothills were hit with similar winds.

“The wind event not only impacted Wyoming but surrounding states,” WYDOT said in their social media post.

Multiple portions of the interstate were closed to light and high-profile vehicles.

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Semi Flips On Wyoming Interstate; Drivers Lose Their Minds

in News/Transportation/wind

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A video posted to Facebook over the weekend shows why it’s important to heed the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s warnings about not driving during high wind warnings.

Steve LaFave, a Cheyenne resident, posted a video to his account on Sunday, after he and a friend drove behind multiple semi-trailers during a high wind warning this weekend.

The two appear to be driving south on Interstate 25, heading into Colorado.

During the two-minute and sometimes expletive-filled video, the men are following behind one particular truck that continues to try and resist the gale-force winds attempting to push it off the road.

Instead of taking the hint and pulling over, the driver continues to fight against nature, the battle finally culminating in the truck flipping over on the interstate. Another semi driving not far behind the fallen truck has to maneuver quickly to avoid hitting it.

“It’s like he’s oblivious too,” the guys say before the truck flips. “What a [expletive] idiot. I’m driving around this [expletive], I ain’t waiting around for this [expletive].”

The men do stop to check on the driver, but the video ends before there was any word from him.

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Snow, High Winds Hit Portions Of Wyoming On Monday Night

in weather/Don Day

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Cold temperatures, wind and light snow hit northwestern and southeastern Wyoming this week as more normal November weather returned to the region.

According to the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, most of the week will be cold and feature at least a little bit of snow, at least in the southeast portion of the state.

The NWS reported that around one inch of snow fell in the area from Pine Bluffs to Rawlins, as well as in portions west of Riverton, Lander and the Yellowstone National Park area.

“Unsettled weather as we are in a progressive, fast moving west to east wind pattern,” the NWS said in a report Tuesday morning.

Tuesday would see “very windy” conditions, with wind-prone areas likely seeing gusts up to 70 or 75 mph, the Weather Service said. Gusts of up to 65 MPH were likely on the downslope of the Laramie and Snowy ranges, including cities like Cheyenne, Laramie and Wheatland.

Wyoming weatherman Don Day confirmed this in his Tuesday morning forecast.

“A more typical November pattern is finally settling into the western United States,” Day said.

Northwestern Wyoming will also be hit with snow over this week, but temperatures will begin rise over the weekend and into early next week.

Any truckers with light loads or people towing camper trailers will have difficulty driving across southeast Wyoming on Tuesday.

There will be another chance of strong winds later in the week.

Thursday will likely be the driest day in terms of snow and precipitation.

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Sorry, Wyoming’s Horrible Winds Are Not Uncommon For This Time of Year

in News/wind/Don Day

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It’s a little too windy for October, isn’t it?

Unless you really like the wind, then the answer is yes. 

But when you look at the data, the hurricane force gusts that much of Wyoming has been experiencing are sadly not uncommon for October.

That being said, the 101 mph gust recorded at a place aptly called Mt. Coffin in Lincoln County does seem a little extreme.

It really shouldn’t be in the conversation though. That’s what Wyoming’s weatherman Don Day told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

“That’s because it was a mountaintop wind,” Day said. “It’s almost 11,000 feet and not representative of wind on the plains.”

Using Day’s restrictions, the 84 mph gust at Fort Washakie does count. As does the 83 mph wind gust at Arlington. And even the relatively wimpy 71 mph gust at the Cheyenne airport counts.

Sadly, it’s not unusual for this time of year.  We might think it’s unusual because it’s happening now and our memories really aren’t very good.

“October to April is our windy season and strong winds like yesterday happen in October more than you think,” Day said. 

It’s because the seasons are changing and when that happens, we experience an increase in strength of jet stream winds aloft and that’s when we get our high wind events, Day explained.

There’s got to be a way to make lemonade out of the lemons though, right?Not really.

You can try kite-flying. But you’ll never see your kite again, Day said.

Well, at least we can harness the excess wind and generate wind-power.

Nope. It’s even too windy to generate wind-power, he said.

If you want to blame anyone, you can blame Day. We do. We’re well aware that this is killing the messenger, but we don’t mind.

Truth be told, however, the problem is where the state is located.

Wyoming is in the mid-latitudes (half way between the North Pole and the equator), Day explained, and from fall to spring the jet stream is either overhead or nearby and we have strong winds aloft (which means strong wind events as Day mentioned earlier).

Second, Wyoming’s high elevation puts us closer to those jet stream winds.

Third, and this is where Day really gets interesting:

If you look at a map of North America, the largest gaps between mountains in the Rockies are in Wyoming, from the end of Snowy Range to the tip of the Wind Rivers and between Casper Mountain and the Bighorns.

“The winds get squeezed through the gaps and that accelerates the wind,” he explained “Like putting your thumb over a garden hose.”

“So, there are parts of Wyoming where the wind is accelerated because of the interaction with the terrain (mountains and mountain gaps) and the strong winds aloft,” Day said.  

“The best example of this is I-80 around Arlington/Elk Mountain and I-25 at Colorado border and I-25 south of Wheatland,” he said.

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